Oh, the smell of a new Christmas tree at 399 East 4th. The fragrant pine just filled the living room with the "aroma of the wild". And with pine needles falling in my hair, along with an ornament or two shattering on my Lionel tracks. There I was, all 7 years of "little man Brooklyn" at the controls of my own little railroad running under the tree.
Oh, the smell of a new Christmas tree at 399 East 4th. The plastic pine tree just filled the living room with it's wonderful "freshly factory made smell". And there I was all 13 years of "little puberty man Brooklyn" trying to figure out how the heavy wire branches fit into the "broom-stick like" shaft of the "E.J. Korvettes" tree of the future.
Oh, the smell of a new Christmas tree at 399 East 4th. The chrome-like branches just filled the air with no smell at all. I only wonder what an electrical short would have looked like on my cousin Pete's silver chrome Christmas tree. From the sidewalk in front of the house it must have looked so beautiful and silver. The tree of the "space age", and 399 was it's "mission control center". And there I was all 18 years of "teenage Brooklyn", just happy my cousins still lived in my house.
Oh, the smell of a new Christmas tree at 399 East 4th. Actually after about 10 years of use, the plastic "E.J. Korvettes" tree didn't smell any more. And with my Mom's eyesight going she actually used one of the branches to clean the toilet with one day. Because I was 23 years old and out most of the time, I never realized until New Years Day that she and my sister Isabel assembled it upside down. Using short branches at the bottom and the long at the top.
Oh, the smell of a new Christmas tree at 399 East 4th. The fragrant pine just filling the living room with the "aroma of the wild". With pine needles falling in my graying hair along with a "shatterproof" ornament bouncing off my Lionel train tracks. There I am, all 49 years of "middle age man Brooklyn" at the controls of my own little railroad under the tree. Just making sure my kids don't cause a derailment!
Mike leaned against the fence in front of the Margaret Court on East Fourth Street. With bloodshot eyes and a cigarette burning away between his fingers, Mike just stared up towards Beverly Road without any expression.
Wearing white shorts, and an old polo shirt, Mike looked a litte out of place in 1975. Black socks and brown sandals also made Mike as different as can be in a time when most guys had long hair and wore platform shoes.
I guess Mike was about thirty-five then, he stood about five foot nine and had a hard looking potbelly. With a touch of gray in his red hair Mike also sported a rough looking mustache. And all “Crazy Mike” did everyday was just hang out in front of the Margaret Court on East Fourth. Oh, and Mike also lived with his Mom too, and she was about seventy years old.
Whenever Mike spoke to you, he kind of shouted as he put his face right up against yours. I mean it wasn’t that he was trying to be aggressive or anything like that. No, it was just the way Mike spoke to you, and nothing more. And because Mike had that unusual habit, it always gave one a clear view of his eyes. Which were usually red and bloodshot.
“Hey come here Ronnie, I want to ask you something” “Does your Mother drive you fucking crazy too?”
Mike’s face was right in mine, all his nose hairs were "countable" and his breath smelled like alcohol.
“Yeah, you know sometimes, but what you gonna do” I said
If there was one thing I learned about Mike, it was always to agree with him no matter what he said. No, don’t ever disagree with Mike or get him angry, because you’ll never know what he’ll do. Just always agree, all right?
And then there was the horrific screaming that used to come out of their apartment at the Margaret Court. And it was always Mike and his mother fighting about something, and yes they never whispered. they both just screamed at the top of their lungs.
“I’m going to kill you ma, I’m going to kill you” “Don’t you dare touch me or I’ll call the police, get away, get away!” “I said I’m going to kill you” “Put down the knife Mike, put down the knife” “Ahhhhhhhh, Ahhhhhhh"
But don’t worry this was normal, and someone else already called the police. And there was usually a patrol car in front of the Margaret Court almost every day.
Yeah, Mike and his mom surely had an open relationship and never kept anything inside that festered into hate.
I remember the night the City coroner’s truck and a bunch of police cars were parked in front on the Margaret Court. And for some reason that night there was no screaming coming out of the second floor window. No, tonight it was silent, no screaming at all.
Mike’s mom was holding on to the arm of a cop as they carried a long black body bag on a stretcher.
No, no more screaming at the Margaret Court, because Mike was dead.
We never really knew how Mike died. Some said it was drugs, others said he just had a heart attack.
But the strange thing is ever since the day Mike died we never saw his mom.
And maybe never really knew "who" was holding the knife.
Yes, Kensington Stories would be nothing without people reading it. And I am very honored and humbled to know that so may of you folks read my blog. For all the people that used to live here and moved away, I guess it's a way to re-connect with the past. For all the new folks that moved here from parts "unknown", well, it's a way to learn about what it was like here way back when. And for all you people who still live here and never moved away like me, Oh my God, what's wrong with us????
Oh, just kidding!
Now Readers Comments:
"This might be the coolest website ever! I grew up on Ft Ham. Pkway, between E2nd and E3rd, directly over Sonny's Pizza across from IHM, from around 1968 to 1979. Mr. Hagenberg took care of the laundrymat on one corner (E2nd) and there was an Associated on the other (E3rd). Between the two was a drug store, a dry cleaners, a deli, and a car service. Thanks for the memories!"
"Dr. Albin once put stitches in my arm without anesthesia! I guess my parents didn't want to wait in the ER or just wanted to watch me scream in pain as the good doctor sewd me up!" Josh
"And if you keep going around the bend toward McDonald Ave. there was what we called the OK diner, which we thought was owned by Papa Gallo and the Gallo brothers all hung out there. We used to stop there on our way home from school and I remember Joey opening up the juke box, so we could hear whatever records we wanted." Ginny
"I just wanted to write and say thank you for your wonderful wonderful blog. I was born and raised in Kensington (100 Caton to be exact) from 1979 till when I went off to college in 1997. My mom and my grandmother still lived in the building until this past September, when my mother finally made the Brooklyn move to.... Staten island (the horror! :)). But, my grandmother is still there.
"Anyway, I just wanted to drop a note and say thank you for keeping this up. The stories are a bit before my time, but they sound familiar because they are the stories that my mom and grandparents and aunts and uncles all told (The Beverly, Louie's, Joey Gallo....the whole family lived in the neighborhood from the 1930's on). And now that I am living out in San Francisco, I just loved reading all these even more."
"Anyways, thanks again for your corner of the internet. It definitely brightens my day!
"I remember the German Deli and in the late 40s & early 50s there was a butcher. I think it was Sam's. and then he moved to Church Ave., between E 5th and Ocean Parkway. Sorry, I go back a long way. The happiest days of my life Lived on East 5th between Beverly & Ave. C" Ginny
"I wish I had a German Deli turkey and muenster cheese hero with some german potato salad or cole slaw right now!" Josh
"Thanks for mentioning Steve. There actually was a trick to getting the tokens out fo the turnstile without putting your lips on the slot. Looking back it makes me wonder what we were thinking. We would do just about anything for a couple of bucks." Paul
"This was the stop outside my Aunt's house on East 5th - been there many, many times. I also remember walking down to the entrance from Ft. Hamilton Parkway, and seeing an older man coming out, blood streaming from his nose, saying that he'd been mugged. I think we then walked to the Church Avenue stop to get on the F train." Michael
Jimmy Spinner is one of my closest friends that grew up on East Fourth. Although he's a lot younger than me, something like six or seven years. He always seemed to be older than his age and pretty wise too.
Some real good stuff here from a real son of Kensington.
The Popsicle Stick An autobiographical short story by Jimmy Spinner
As children we cling to the remnants of the popsicle well after the flavored ice is gone. We savor the traces left on the small wooden stick until those tiny splinters start to hurt our tongue and we are forced to move on.
I was always cursed or blessed, depending on how you look at it, with the writer's ability to recognize moments. Even as a little kid on East 4th Street in Brooklyn I could feel myself as the protagonist in some grandiose play. The soundtrack of my life playing in the background would more than likely be the 70's A.M. pop that the girls on my block were collecting as 45's.
The setting of this play was my block. That's what we called it "our block." That was our haven. The boundaries were simple East 4th Street between Beverly Road and Avenue C. As we rode our bikes up and down the block the feeling of safety that we had would dissipate as we moved towards either avenue. It was just a feeling but as you passed Dr. Langsam's house, the last private house on the block, something changed. It might only be a matter of feet but all of a sudden it wasn't our block anymore.
What a great place to grow up. Our neighborhood was working class Irish and Italian so there was a ton of kids. Catholics you know. All we did was play, mostly sports, depending on the season. The big sports were stickball in the summer and roller hockey in the winter. We had some pretty good athletes, at least that's the way I remember it, and the competition was fierce. There was Tommy Brennan, a few years younger than most of us, our goalie. Jimmy Breyer, a tall drink of water and the only boy of seven kids, our token red head who went into a psychosomatic slump every summer during stickball season. James Yannone, also known as Bubba because he was our fat kid, if he argued vehemently with you and shook his head NO from side to side the fat would roll in waves. The best part of arguing with Bubba was if things got out of hand, his older sisters would show up and man were they gorgeous. We all had crushes on Rose and Joanne. Picture a cross between Marie Osmond and Annette Funicello. I also have to mention my next door neighbors, Big Pete Competello the smartest kid on our block. He was so smart they skipped him twice. He leaped from 2nd to 4th grade and from 6th to 8th! And his cousin, Little Pete Savino the toughest little left wing I ever met. Our houses were separated as were all of the houses on the block, by an alleyway about the width of a small car.
We were a tight knit group. We shared our secrets. We were practically inseparable. Which brings me to my Best Friend, John Tracy, nicknamed Tweety we were inseparable. Tweety was the fastest kid on our block. He was small, brown wavy hair, Mets t-shirt,cut-off jeans shorts. We did everything together. A game wasn't as much fun for either of us if we were not on the same team. We were so tight that our families became close. We vacationed together in the Poconos. Our father's coached our little league teams together. We went to our first Met game together. We were always eating or sleeping over each other's houses. Like a married couple that's been together for a while, people started to say that we even looked alike.
The routine was the same every summer day. We rushed to see who would be the first one "out." It was then that person's responsibility to ring everyone else's bell to get our whole gang out. We would then meet at the sewer in the middle of the street in front of Tommy Brennan's house that served as our home plate for stickball games. We would choose up teams and then play stickball until lunchtime. For lunch we'd beg a buck from our Mom and then grab our skateboards and skate up to Church Avenue, en masse to get a slice of Pizza and a Coke at Korner Pizzeria, still the best I have ever had. We'd probably wreak a little havoc in the stores on the avenue until we'd wear out our welcome.
We'd usually get chased back to the friendly confines of our block for some more stickball. The only time the routine changed was if we had a good old fashioned thunder storm. Then we would pitch baseball cards or play board games on somebody's porch until the rain let up.
Usually we would chase that little pink rubber ball and run the bases between those sewers until six o'clock or so as the dad's started to come home from work. Then it would be time for dinner so our game would break up.
Mr. Competello, the plumber, usually came home first and made Pete kiss him hello every night, which we all thought was weird. Then the remaining fathers would appear in rapid succession between 5 and 6 o'clock. Then East 4th Street was silent, all you could hear was the sound of evening traffic lolling slowly down our street.
After dinner we waited for the bells of the ice cream man. We had two ice cream men in our neighborhood. We had the Good Humor man, Mr. Corporate America in his clean and pressed white uniform. Good Humor sent a different guy every year in his sparkling new truck and that didn't sit right with us, we'd only buy ice cream from the Good Humor man as a last resort. We did however buy a lot of ice cream from Morris, our grandfatherly figure in his beat up old ice cream truck, with its collage of stickers displaying that summer's wares. Morris was part of our neighborhood, he was as much a fixture as the church steeple. White haired, rail thin, Morris was the underdog and he tugged at our working class hearts.
It was the summer of '76, Elton John's "Daniel" was topping the charts and my friends and I were eating our ice cream on the stoop in front of my house when I had one of those Moments. I remember distinctly glancing down the line of my boyhood friends and thinking, "It's never going to be any better than this. How much fun do we have? No responsibility, playing games all day, eating ice cream. I hope this never changes but I know it's going to."
And things were about to change and I was an agent of that change.
Every morning during the school year, Tweety and I would walk up East 4th Street and trek the 6 long blocks in our school uniforms to Immaculate Heart of Mary School. The only place Tweety and I were separated was at school. For the 8 years of grammar school, we were tracked by "ability." The way we called it, I was in the smart class (8-1) and Tweety was in the middle class (8-2) .
With this tracking, I was with the kids from the "1" class from first grade to eighth grade. We became a pretty tight-knit group, Sully, Chrissy Ryan, Mark Bowen, Jean Ann Powers and Jimmy Quinlan. We gave Quinlan the nickname Quint, remember it was the 70’s and Jaws was the hot movie. Quint was one of my best buddies at school. He was sharp as a tack, a wise-ass extraordinaire and a real live wire. This kid invented ADHD before any of us had ever heard of the diagnosis. He was also the most popular with the girls at school. He had that upturned Kevin Bacon nose and the confidence that comes from knowing you're good looking. Needless to say Quint was a lot of fun to hang out with. He seemed to raise the level of excitement. Quint was from East Seventh Street, a world away from East Fourth Street when you’re a kid.
As we moved up in the grades however, our parents began to expand the territory in our neighborhood we were allowed to venture to on our own. By 7th grade, East Seventh Street had become a reasonable destination. As a result I had started spending time on East 7th Street with Quinlan. The Quinlan's had a big house and a nice backyard, Jimmy's father was a Lt. in the NYC Police department so his family was pretty well-off by our neighborhood's standards. And by 7th grade Jimmy was already wearing Levi's and Pro-Keds while the rest of us were still buying our clothes at Sears. It was always fun and exciting to leave the friendly confines of East 4th Street and venture off to unknown worlds.
After spending the day with Quint and his friends, jumping off of garage roofs and stealing Milky Ways from the local news stand, I would walk the 4 or so blocks back to East 4th Street. I can still see the hurt look on my friends' faces when they interrupted whatever game they were in the middle of to ask, "Spinner, where yah been?
There started to be an ebb and flow to this routine. Once or twice a week I would go to Quinlan's after school. As my horizon's expanded, I started to look at my East 4th Street friends differently. They seemed like little kids. Part of me liked that and part of me was embarrassed by that. Little kids play hide and seek and flip baseball cards, and I loved doing all of those things. Little kids also wear little kids clothes and rarely shower and don't really care what they look like which really wasn't a problem until I started hanging out with Quint. He started "coaching" me on what kind of clothes to wear and where to get my hair cut. "Spinner what are you a little kid? You're wearing Tough Skins and dirty t-shirts and reject sneakers? You're never gonna get any girls like that!" So I gave in to the peer pressure and begged my Mom to get me some Levi's and some "big kids" clothes.
Eventually, I invited Quint to my block. That's when everything changed. I can still picture it, we were in the middle of a stickball game and I could see him sauntering up the street. It was almost like the music changed in the background. All of a sudden I looked around at my friends and I was embarrassed, I tried to distance myself from them. He came up to home plate and said, "Spinner, what are you doin'?" "I'm playing stickball. What does it look like I'm doing?" "Stickball? That's for little kids. Don't you have anything fun to do on this block?"
And that was it, I told my friends I was going to do something else. Tommy Brennan looked at me as if I had punched him in the stomach and said, "But we're in the middle of a game?" As we walked away Quint snickered, "You're hanging out with these little kids?"
I started to increase the time I spent with Quint. We dragged Tweety with us as he was still my best friend. After this, my boyhood friends started treating me differently and rightfully so. I can picture them all in their minds saying, "Oh sure Spinner you only hang out with us when your cool friends aren’t around."
Quint started to come around East 4th Street more often and eventually it was the three of us Quinlan, Tweety and Spinner. At some point Quint showed up with girls. And they were cute and pretty and they made us act different.
One of the girls was Cathy Cavanaugh, the prettiest girl in our school. She hung around with two other girls we knew from school, Carolyn Leaver, small petite, long straight brown hair down to her butt and Marie McKay, freckles and black hair. All three were cute and I started to realize it was a perceived danger/excitement that was bringing them around, there was a certain electricity in the air when the three of us were together. They liked us. They thought we were funny and laughed at our jokes.
And here's another of those Moments. Someone got the bright idea that we should play Hide-and-Seek. I remember thinking we're in 8th grade and we're going to play a kids game? But it was all Quint's idea to get us alone with the girls so we could "make out." I remember panicking and dragging Tweety and Quint away from the crowd and whispering, "I don't know what I'm doing, what if Carolyn wants to kiss me?" Quint and Tweety laughed and said in unison, "That's the whole idea." Eventually Quint said to me, "Don't worry about it Spinner just act like you know what you're doing and let her lead. She's probably kissed somebody already. You just kind of stick your tongue in there and swish it around a little bit. You'll be fine."
So we went back out to the front porch of my house. Somebody was chosen as "it" and counted out loud, "One-Two-Three…" We scattered to hide. Unbeknownst to me the girls and Quint had orchestrated where we would all hide. I wound up in the hedges along the side of Mrs. Brody's house with Carolyn Leaver. There we were giggling and out of breath, in very close quarters, with the sound of someone yelling, "Ready or Not here I come!" in the background. And that's the MOMENT. I remember thinking, "Here I am in one of the hiding spots from my childhood, playing Hide-and-Seek, and I'm about to kiss a GIRL!."
A few weeks later, I was standing at home plate, with the stickball bat in my hand, when my mother screamed, "Jimmy telephone!" from the front porch of my house a few doors away. I pulled the bat down and yelled, "Who is it Mah, we're in the middle of a game!" I heard her say, "I think it's Tweety," as I watched her apron fluttered back into the house. I put the bat down, amid the protests of my friends, and said I'd be right back. Running into the house I picked up the phone and said, "Hello." All I remember was Quint saying, "Spinner get your ass over here right now, we got beer." I asked how he got it or something stupid like that and he said, "Don't worry about it just get your ass over here now." So I hung up the phone, looked guiltily at my mom and walked out of the house. I walked right past the stickball court, "Spinner where are you going? We're in the middle of a game." "I know." I said, "But I gotta go."
And here was another one of those Moments. I remember looking at my boyhood friends, stuck in their innocence and thinking, "I'm going to drink a beer. Am I allowed to do this? Should I just stay here? I'd rather be 10 years old like Tommy Brennan and not have to make these decisions right now." But I went. I knew if I didn't show up they'd call me a pussy and I'd probably miss a lot of fun. And I wanted to drink the beer. That's what the MEN in my neighborhood did, they worked hard and they drank beer. So at 14 years old I drank my first beer.
Things really started to reel out of control after that. I was torn in so many directions. I missed my friends from my block. I missed playing hide-and-seek. I wasn't ready to give up my baseball cards. But I enjoyed hanging with this cool crowd, even if it was tough. We did have a lot of fun, and we were hanging out with girls.
One night, late in the summer, Quint, Tweety, the girls and I we were hanging out on my stoop, eating ice cream. News of a liquor store hold-up and a shooting on Church Avenue traveled quickly up the block. Everyone ran the two blocks to the scene. There were cop cars and ambulances with lights flashing. The smell of blood and adrenaline was in the air. The crowd was full of the usual know-it-alls who were the first on the scene. Whispers of, "They shot the guy." "The old man who owned the liquor store shot a junkie as he was running down the block" "Shot him in the head." "He's dead." "How the hell did that old man hit him?"
We all stayed at the scene for a while, trying to get a peak at the victim. We were all drawn to the scene. We grew up in a rough neighborhood but this was big news no matter how you looked at it. Eventually, they took the victim away in an ambulance. The crowd started to disperse. All of us kids wound up in a circle around a pool of blood. It was huge, about the size of a manhole cover and it had been sitting a while so a skin had started to form on top. We just stood there staring at it. Quinlan, Tweety, Myself on one side of the circle and Big Pete, Little Pete, Bubba & company on the other side of the circle. We were all repulsed and drawn to it at the same time. We stood there saying nothing, or things like, "Oh man", or "Shit, I can't believe this happened." When all of a sudden, Tommy Brennan took his popsicle stick out of his mouth, gave the crowd a sly look, raised his hand slightly and tossed that stick into the middle of the coagulating pool of blood. I remember everyone turning away in unison. I can still see Tommy's smiling face, thinking he had done something really cool. And I remember looking at that popsicle stick and looking at Tommy and my friends from my block and realizing that we were different somehow. The fact that Me, Quint or Tweety would not have thrown that popsicle stick in that pool of blood seemed to mean something. As we turned to walk away these two groups of my friends went in opposite directions. And that seemed symbolic to me. Glancing over my shoulder as my boyhood friends headed back to my block I knew then that this choice I was making would effect the rest of my life…
Now doctor Albin’s “five dollar” specials weren’t really that long ago. In fact they may have even stretched into the late 80’s here in Kensington. While other doctors may have been charging 50 or 75 bucks for a “check-up”, doctor Albin on Albemarle Road was still charging five bucks.
And I’m not really sure which of these houses on the right he had his office in, I know it was one of them though. Because I was one of his patients, and I always went to see him when I wanted to hear only “good news”.
Oh, and don’t forget the “red pills” that doctor Albin gave you when you left. I mean those pills were good for just about everything you know.
Even terminal “lung cancer”.
Yeah, good old doctor Albin, he told my dad he was as healthy as a horse and would live until he was a hundred years old.
Except my dad died at 39, only three months later.
But at least doctor Albin never made you feel bad, or like you had something wrong with you. No, it was only a "positive" experience when you saw doctor Albin. No matter what your condition.
I remember one time I was playing roller hockey on my block and the puck really smashed my finger. With ice wrapped around it I walked over to doctor Albin’s office. I sat there on the sun porch with a dozen or so of his regular elderly patients. The ice I had wrapped around my finger just dipped on the wood floor, making a small puddle.
When it was my turn to see him, he didn’t even take me inside. He just gave me more ice and a hand full of those red pills. And he let me slide for the five bucks too.
Good old doctor Albin.
And don't you dare call him a "quack" if you knew what was good for you. No, the only quacking we heard came came form Prospect Park lake.
No, we never heard doctor Albin "quack" once, no, never once.
Yeah, good old doctor Albin, did we love him or what.
But I'm afraid the story about doctor Albin doesn’t have a very happy ending you know. From what I heard, some junkie broke into his house looking for drugs and apparently killed him. That was sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s, although I was never sure.
Doctor Albin and five dollar office visits. And I don’t think anyone ever asked him if he took insurance.
Fred Cooper could never stand still when he spoke to you. With short black hair parted to the side, a polo shirt and gray polyester pants, Freddie had a voice that was oddly high pitched for a six foot sixteen year old. With his two pudgy hands tucked in his pants pockets, he would gently rock from side to side as he discussed last night’s Ranger game. Freddie always smiled when he spoke too.
Freddie also carried a black briefcase when he went to school, just swinging it by his side as he walked down our block. Freddie had a walk similar to a duck too; his two gigantic brown shoes practically took up the entire sidewalk as he strolled by. Yes, Freddie was sure a “fish out of water” when he walked down East 4th. But then again Freddie was a “Techie” or Brooklyn Tech Student, so that alone may have explained a lot back in 1975.
And we were the East 4th street boys, long hair, engineer boots and bell-bottoms. Just thinking we were “oh so cool”, and then there was Fred Cooper, a kid who looked more like our Grandfathers than us.
But Freddie was a good friend of Robert Brennan our “go to guy”. So no matter what Freddie looked like or sounded like, he was “in” when it came to our block. And besides, Freddie was a real nice kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and probably helped hundreds of Kensington Grandmothers cross the street on Church Avenue. A real sweet kid that Freddie Cooper.
Now, back in 1975 Bartell Pritchard Square was simply known to us as the “Circle” up by the Sanders Movie Theater. Forget Connecticut Muffin, The Pavilion, or any of the other Park Slope places up there now. No, the “Circle” was not a place where you would want to be walking around at nighttime, especially alone.
But knowing Freddie Cooper, I don’t think he thought about it twice, because the “Kind” rarely recognize the “Evil” that the city of Brooklyn breeds.
Freddie would have given his money to any one too. He was probably one of those people you see on the train that always sticks their hands in their pockets as soon as the panhandler walks on. So I know there was no reason why they should have hurt Freddie that night, no, none at all.
And I’m sure the “wolf pack” of kids that attacked Freddie never knew that he may have helped one of their Grandmothers cross Prospect Park West at one time. No, they just saw an innocent victim, a “Gentle Lamb” grazing in their “Lions Den” that night back in 1975.
The knife that stuck out of Freddie’s back just glistened in the Windsor Terrace moonlight. The lights of Bartell Prichard Square reflecting off the long silver blade that was buried deep inside his still warm body. The back of Freddie Cooper’s Blue Brooklyn Tech jacket turned to a horrible dark red. The blood of his body just dripped onto the dirty sidewalk by his side. Fred Cooper breathed his last breath as a sixteen year old that night, and died right there on the dirty sidewalk of Bartell Prichard Square.
A sad and lonely death for a son of Kensington, Brooklyn, A senseless killing of one of the sweetest kids you ever met. I guess Freddie was just in the “wrong place at the wrong time” that’s all. Yeah, how many times have you heard that?
So the next time your up by the Pavilion or having a “Latte” at Connecticut Muffin, say a prayer for Fred Cooper. Because he died on the cold concrete sidewalk of Bartell Pritchard Square so many years ago, in a time before Windsor Terrace was cute and Park Slope was pretty. Somewhere in the Brooklyn of my youth, so many years ago.
This weekend my old friend Patty D. was up from Florida to play goalie with us down at Avenue F. And once again I asked him questions about 500 East Fourth Street. Now according to what Pat learned about the house it was one of the first houses in Kensington. In fact Pat even said that the old woman who lived there in the 70's told him that her great grandparents were Dutch and the house was in fact made from the wood of the ship they dragged from the Coney Island.
Pat also told me that his brother has pictures of the house with American Indians standing outside of it posing with the owner, as well as other photographs of the cornfields that surround it. Hey, what the hell, it sounds a lot more interesting than the history of my house. According to my family it was owned by a Jewish gambler who owed so much money to Joey Gallo that he had to sell it before they put him in a drum packed with concrete and dump him in Sheepshead Bay.
The other stories about each house next to me goes as so. 403 East Fourth street was owned by the Bryer ice cream family, (although they were from Philly) while 395 East Fourth was owned by the Reingold family that owned the beer company in Brooklyn. The servants quarters were on the top floor of each house, and they used a dumbwaiter to deliver the food to every floor.
I remember as a kid my mom telling me to keep away from this open shaft near our bedroom. So I think that story's not far from the truth.
And as for 500 East Fourth, I"ll keep bugging Pat for those pictures.
My cousin Denise in middle playing with her friends on our front porch. Note the milk boxes on the porch in the lower right, yes in the 60's we had our milk delivered by the "milk man". And yes, I look like my parents.
In in backyard of 399 East 4th with my cousin Pete. Pete on left, me on the right. Pete barely escaped Tower 2 on September 11.
My Grandmother Isabel Lopez (Late 1950's) Note that the apartment building on Beverley Road between East 4th and 5th was not built yet.
East 4th street scene (1968)
Ave F Roller Hockey 1970's. We were playing a challenge game against the 70th pct. Kings. They were older than us and whipped my team (Ryan's Northstars) 7-1. Ryans Bar is now Shananigins. Most of the (Kings) were from Windsor Terrace. I am the goalie looking the wrong way!
A Kensington Christmas (1961) My brother Joseph on left, me on right. Joseph died in 1969 at the age of 13.
My Mom and I, Jimmy Brier (NYPD ret.) , cousin Pete (Lawyer), and Timmy Slesarchek (MTA), who still lives on East 5th. (1980)
Because we're having a "costal" storm, the clouds and rain have not made to the Catskill mountains 150 miles away from Kensington. This webcam shot was just taken this afternoon, notice the sun on the mountains in the distance.
There was once a clothing store on the North/West corner of Church and McDonald. It's name rhymed with a popular Bay Ridge disco and dance club that was on Fifth Avenue in 1980's. Now no cheating and looking at old photo's, this one takes some mind work.
Ok, so because I can't think of anything to write anymore I came up with this new idea called "Kensington Quiz Time"
What I'll be doing is using Google Street View and uploading current store fronts and houses that used to be something else way back when we were kids.
So to start off I'm loading a shot of the current Computer store on the North/East corner of Church and East Fourth.
Now way back in the 60's it was something else, and to give you a hint my mom used to buy me a box of "Smith Brothers" cough drops there. And Steve Miller's "Fly Like an _____" should give you a hint as well.
The first person to get the correct answer gets posted tomorrow front and center!
Ok, so the other day my son wants to see some new movie called "Astroboy". And it's really not playing anywhere close to East Fourth street, well, except for the Alpine in Bay Ridge. Yes, the Alpine in Bay Ridge is still there folks and my wife takes both my kids there every so often when they have a day off from school.
So anyway, determined to find another place closer I look on the internet and check out all the movie houses in Brooklyn playing this thing...Court Street, UA Sheepshead Bay, Alpine, The Kent.
The KENT??? The KENT??? The KENT???
I thought this place closed after they played the last Death Wish 5 movie or Rocky 12 back in the early 80's?
The KENT is still here? Still showing movies in Brooklyn?
Holy Shit! The Kent never closed after all!
So I tell my son we're going to see Astroboy at this place called the "Kent" on Coney Island Avenue.
"Hey Dad, is this place nice?" "Because mom usually takes us to the Alpine, and the Alpine is really nice and clean"
Well, I didn't want to tell my son that when I reviewed the "Kent" some people claimed they were bitten by rats there. Because I just chalked that up to some disgruntled customers who probably thought the seats were too small.
So we fire up the Quest, drive to Midwood and find a spot on Avenue I. We make a left by the gas station and walk down Coney Island Avenue towards where I think the Kent should be.
"Hey dad is the Kent really here because I don't see anything"
I look way down Coney Island Avenue and don't see the marque that I remember as a teenager, but do see this strange overhang thing that looks like it belongs to some "Mandee Shop" in Paramus New Jersey. White plastic with a blue stripe on the side that's just screaming: "Sucker, the KENT closed over twenty years ago and the internet never updated it's records." "Sucker" "Sucker" "We fooled you!!!"
And just as I'm expecting to see some dresses and shoes in the window instead of the old Kent, I see a small ticket booth with a person inside of it.
Holy Shit, the Kent is actually still here! Now this one is hard to believe! For once something is still here since I was a kid! Wow, this is really something!
So I tell the guy in the window "two tickets for Astroboy", I hand him a twenty and he gives me ten dollars back.
"Is my son free?"
"No, first show is five dollars each"
I think the last time I paid five bucks to see a movie was when I saw "Christine" at the Fortway back in 1983 with my first wife Jessica along with Pete, Ketty, Robert and Maria. A triple kind of date thing you know. Holy shit, did that movie give me the creeps. And mind you I was one of those guys in love with my Plymouth too, except it was a Barracuda rather than a 58 Fury.
But back to the Kent.
So we go inside and the place is broken down into a triplex. Still the same old stuff inside and probably the same seats from the 70's as well. The room that we're inside of is no bigger than my cubicle at work, but still, you can sit in the back row and be real close to the screen.
I check out the walls, the wood molding, the floor, the fire exit and all looks well. The screen is not stained or anything like the one at the Beverly used to be, well, you know Steve McNally threw that egg at the screen, but thats another story for another time.
So we sit, sit, sit. My son asks me every thirty seconds what time it is and finally the movie starts. And this is the part that gets me. The Kent still runs a projector! Yes the vertical lines are running through the film like some "Planet of the Apes" movie at the Beverly, and you can clearly hear the sound of the projector's gears and the film running by the hot bulb inside.
I'm just waiting for the film to get jammed and the frame to melt like when we used to project porno movies on Neil O'Callaghans house across the street, but once again another story for another time.
So as we're watching the movie I can't help but notice that the upper portion of the movie is clear while the bottom of the frame is blurry. Along with the constant vertical scratches running through the film. I feel pretty bad because I know this place is no "Alpine" where they probably show the movie on a computer screen or something.
But then I turn and look at my son. He's smiling, laughing and having a wonderful time seeing "Astroboy".
Yes, just like the old Beverly when we never cared about the scratches in the film or the picture being slightly blurry. My son is just being a kid and overlooking those stupid little things that annoy us adults. Yes, kids see the world in another way, and I'm sure happy they do.
No the world is not perfect and neither are movie houses. And I'm sure glad the Kent is still here in 2009, just like it was in the Brooklyn of my youth.
Yes, such a long time ago, when we didn't care either.
The old rusted corpse just laid there. Like some warrior wounded in battle, the Plymouth sat chained to the long galvanized steel gurney. The live blood of its body was slowly dripping out of its fluid lines and oil pan. Its soul was dying. With the diesel engine of the flatbed revving to a higher pitch, I could see my neighbors staring at it from their porch. With sheer disgust in their faces, they just watched.
The driver got out of the truck and walked behind the cab, he pulled on one of the black levers. With the sound of an electric bed at Palm Gardens on Avenue C, the patient rose slowly towards the sky. Higher and higher it went, the motor groaned and whined until it stopped. The eyes of the Plymouth just stared at the smokestacks of PS 179 in the distance. Another greasy finger pulled another lever and the Plymouth started to roll gently down the bed. As the bald Goodyear’s slowly turned, a long rusty chain grew from underneath the front bumper. Growing longer and longer, until the car sat flat in front of my driveway. Like a fish with a hook in its mouth the rusty chain extended all the way up the truck, the Plymouth looked dead. The driver got on the ground underneath the front bumper and rattled the cold steel chains. A few moments later he dropped them to the ground. “Ok, she’s all yours.” With that he pressed another button, the flatbed retracted and the chain slowly grew shorter working it’s way back up the bed until the hook could only be seen from the large spool behind the cab. The red transmission fluid of the Plymouth filled the steel bed like blood. I paid the driver and he drove away.
Inside the car there was a human figure, he looked at me through the dirty window and smiled. One of my best friends, Peter LoBianco was sitting inside the old Plymouth since the pick-up at Avenel, New Jersey. Dust and dirt from the ripped headliner covered his hair. He slowly rolled down the window. “So Ronnie, should we give it a shot?” I just nodded my head “yes”. Peter stuck the silver key inside the black steering column. With his thumb and index finger on either side of the Chrysler Pentastar he turned the key towards the hood. With some struggle the starter motor slowly turned the gigantic flywheel with its tiny gears. Turning, turning, turning, until the engine awoke. With the sound of an old Jersey drag racer the Cuda rumbled a loud throaty sound. As blue smoke slowly filled the street my neighbors closed their porch door and went inside. We pulled it into my driveway, the sound was horrific.
Oh, so here we go again, another break-up, divorce or failed romance and Ronnie Lopez buys another car. Just a little something to distract him while he gets it together. No habit to pull me through you ask? Yeah, I had a habit, a real bad one too. They weighed around 3500 pounds, leaked oil, and smoked. And all I had to do was close the door of my garage and leave the real world behind me, never thinking twice about why that last relationship never really worked out, or even giving it another chance. No, forget romance and love for now, because you have an old steel warrior to bring back to life, and it’s going to take you months.
And your friends, well, there going to have to understand too, although sometimes they just didn’t get it. “Hey Lopez, what the hell you doing in this stupid garage all the time?” “There’s a big world out there”. “Just go upstairs and take a shower, we’re going into the city”. I guess that’s why I called them my friends. A night out in the Greenwich Village followed by some Pizza at Rays on 6th Avenue. But then it was back to work.
Freezing winter nights sometimes turned the water to ice as I wet sanded the smooth red lacquer paint. Just fighting the elements until stone turned to glass. From the driveway of 399 East 4th, you could see the light glowing through the cracks in the door, sometimes till dawn. And on many occasions the “midnight auto repairs” resulted in some nasty letters from my downstairs next-door neighbor. The letters would just appear in the foyer of the house, simply addressed to “Ronnie”. After reading them I would always let her know that she’ll get the first ride around the block once I was finished. “That’s not funny Ronnie” is all she would say.
And then the day would finally arrive, the moment to unveil out my own hand made “Faberge Egg” from my garage. It was my masterpiece, my novel, and my sculpture. It burnt hands, cut fingers and emptied my wallet. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. And most important, it helped me forget “what’s her name” for the past year or so.
So you look at her in all her glory, her engine is new and her paint shines like glass. You sit inside the new interior and turn the key. The brand new 440 Chrysler engine purrs like a kitten. You slowly back the Cuda out of the driveway, making sure not to make too much noise. You can see your neighbors again on their porch, even they look amazed. You park the car in your driveway and open the driver’s door; walking backwards you just admire it, feeling proud of your accomplishment. As you sit on your front stoop and look at the car, all you can say is ”it’s done, finally it’s done.”
Well, I still hold all those cars dear to my heart, and still drive them around Kensington once and a while. Like beautiful crystals in a cave they live in the darkness of my garage. But now a days I don’t get to work on the cars that much anymore, forget about painting them or re-building motors at twelve midnight. I just can’t seem to find the time, and besides, there haven’t been any failed romances lately either. You see my two children and wife keep me quite busy these days. And I can only thank one person for that. No one other than my next-door neighbor who looked at that Plymouth with anguish on her face the day we brought it on that flatbed. Because she introduced me to my wife right after I finished my second car, and must have been planning it all along.
I remember the walls of our apartment always being a collection of very sharp angles. Like old trees in a forest they sometimes looked as though they were leaning on each other and ready to collapse right on top of us while we slept.
And it all seemed quite normal to me too, especially the pitched wall above my bed in our bedroom. A wonderful angled wall that always gave me the opportunity to study my watercolor paintings and classroom drawings when I woke up each morning.
I always felt quite comfortable in our apartment too. It just offered this splendid sense of coziness that I could never find in the enormous square walled dwellings of my aunt and grandmother below us. No, our apartment was just “right”, and I was always glad get back to our “little cabin in the sky” each and every day.
You know you're sitting on the top of the world too. A bird’s eye view of every sunrise and sunset over Kensington Brooklyn. Those magnificent Ocean Parkway apartment buildings could have easily been the “Berkshires” if you squinted your eyes long enough. Old television antennas turned into pine trees and tiny yellow windows were wonderful little farmhouses that sprinkled the mountainside.
Oh, but those sunsets, they were just beautiful every day. And there was never any need to even imagine when it set. Just a magnificent orange ball setting over the house tops of East 3rd and East 2nd. Finally disappearing over the gigantic factory on 39th street in Boro Park. No, even from our attic apartment an old factory looked beautiful with the evening sun slowly fading behind it.
Then there were the storms, and let me tell you there could be nothing as breathtaking as a thunderstorm from our top floor apartment. When the Kensington winds howled loud and strong you could actually feel the house swaying and rocking back and forth. One hundred year old timber and nails never pretending to be stronger than Mother Nature. Like a tall oak in Prospect Park, she just let the gales wrap themselves around her old wooden body, and gently dance a tender waltz. As the torrid rain would beat hard against the large picture window that looked over the “sea of tar” below. We would just hold on to the couch for dear life as waves crashed against her sides. Sometimes being afraid, but always too excited to ever move from that big old picture window in our living room.
Yeah, sometimes you really felt like you were in the wheelhouse of some old freighter at sea from that apartment. The helm of the good ship 399, and we were lucky enough to live there each and every day.
It’s strange but I still can’t get used to having a lot of space. I don’t know why, maybe I feel as though I’m not worthy and don’t deserve it for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love the apartment I live in now, but there’s something about a lot of space and perfectly square walls that still seems odd to me after all these years. Not to mention the “coziness” of a much smaller apartment that I still miss.
But that’s Ok, I know someday the kids will move out and maybe my wife will banish me to the basement. And boy is there a wonderful room down there I already have my eyes on. And it may all just work out fine; well except for the boiler and water heater I’d have to live with. But still, there’s enough room for a bed. And how much room does one need anyway to feel happy? Sure no views of the sunrise and sunsets over Kensington, but at least I’d have my own fireplace.
So if you live in an attic apartment in Kensington, remember to watch those sunrises and sunsets every day, and never forget how lucky you really are. Because only the lucky live on top.
He used to walk up my block when I was a kid. He was a short man maybe in his 50’s. He had black hair, a moustache and thick “Buddy Holly” style glasses. Sam usually wore a brown overcoat in the winter and a sports jacket in the summer. He could always be seen wearing a brown or black derby too.
Now Sam also walked with a cane, except most of the time it was never touching the sidewalk. Instead he used it to point at people. “Hey ya bum ya, you fuckin bum” those words were Sams trademark as he walked up East 4th. And he usually uttered them when he was drunk.
Now, we were never mean to Sam, and actually liked him. Even when he called us “fuckin bums”, because we may have been only five or six years old at the time and actually thought he was funny. So there he would stand with a newspaper under his arm, his face flushed red and a bottle sticking out of his coat pocket. His old cane right in our faces as we played in front of our house.
“Hey you know what you are?” “A FUCKIN BUM!”.
We would all start laughing at this point because Sam always had a smile on his face when he cursed at us.
“Thats Goldfeather, Sam Goldfeather”
And then he would slowly walk up the block towards Avenue C. Just pointing his cane at anyone he saw until he vanished around the corner.
And then there was Sam’s brother Irving Goldfeather” who looked strikingly similar to Sam. Except Irving was always seen walking in the opposite direction towards Beverly Road. Usually on his way to work in the morning. Yet, Sams brother was quiet and businesslike and would always tip his hat to my Mom and say:
“Good morning Mrs. Lopez, a beautiful day isn’t it?.
“Mom, why don’t Sam and Irving ever walk together?”
My mom would usually just say that “Maybe Sam sleeps late”.
Then one day Sam told us while waving his cane in our faces that he was moving to Florida and wouldn’t be around anymore. He said his brother Irving would be staying, and for us to be nice to him. Well, I guess I was pretty naive because I must have been in High School before I figured out that they were actually the same person. And Sam did a pretty good show holding a job during the day only to drink his problems away at the bars on Church Avenue, and then from his pocket before he got home. But truth is from that day on we only saw his brother Irving walking up and down the block. And he never cursed, always wished my Mom a good day, and only walked with his cane touching the sidewalk.
Tire Spot 453 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, NY (718) 940-7063 (Richie)
Ok, so yesterday my wife calls me at 2 o’clock in the afternoon from Kensington. The front right tire of the Nissan Quest is totally flat and she needs to pick up the kids from school in Bay Ridge at 2:30.
Well, forget about getting home in time from the City, and don't bother calling any one on the block. And that’s for a couple of reasons, number one most of them are moved away years ago, and number two, their parents who stayed behind are all quite old now. No, Bob Brennan's not going to be using that tire iron anymore, because his tire changing days are behind him now, and he's turning eighty in December.
So what’s the FIRST thing a man should do?
Call a local Tire place on Coney Island Avenue and see if they can come over to the driveway to fix it. That’s what.
And that’s when the story of “Tire Spot” starts.
“Hello, my wife is stuck with a flat tire in our driveway at 399 East Fourth, do you think you can send someone over to fix it?”
“Hey man, give me about ten minutes and I’ll drive over there”
“What’s your name?”
“Richie from Tire Spot, I’m the owner”
“Ok, Richie thanks, but my wife has only about fifteen minutes before she has to go to Bay Ridge to pick up the kids. Do you think you can get there in time?”
“I’ll do my best for you man, that’s all I can do”
So of course while my wife’s waiting for Richie from Tire Spot she calls me every few minutes to tell me he’s not there yet. And in the meantime the window is rapidly closing to make it to Bay Ridge in time to pick up my two kids.
So what’s the SECOND thing a man should do?
Well, tell his wife to call car service of course, Because we live in Brooklyn and not Vermont.
So my wife calls Church Avenue car service and heads off to Bay Ridge with a round trip ticket in a blue Dodge Caravan. And me, well, I’m stuck at work worrying that Richie is going to show up there without anyone paying him or showing him where the van is.
So what’s the THIRD thing a man should do?
Well, call one of his tenants and ask him to find Richie, and show him where the van is and assure him that you’ll pay him for his work.
So luckily my middle floor tenant Jeff Nathan was home and his cordless phone worked well enough in my driveway.
‘Hello Richie, this is Ron I called you about the flat on the Quest”
“Yeah Man, don’t worry about it, I see the flat and the van too”
“Richie, you know my wife just left and she has the money for the job, I’m sorry but she had to pick up the kids”
“Hey Man, don’t worry about it, let me change the tire and take it to the shop and see if I can patch it”
“Do you need a charge card number or something?”
“Hey, don’t worry so much, when I’m finished with the job just come over later and pay me, I trust you man, don’t worry.
And that’s what struck me. Here’s a guy doing a job for me in my driveway totally out of trust and nothing else. He doesn’t know me from Adam and trusts that I’ll pay him after he does the job. Which isn’t unusual, but he’s in my driveway rather than me being by his shop.
Ok, so let's sum this up here why don't we...
Richie drives over to my house in his truck, changes my tire, takes the flat one to his shop, fixes it, and then returns to take off the spare and put back the tire he just fixed.
A couple hundred bucks I’m thinking, right?
Well, about an hour later Richie calls me at work to tell me he finished the job and I’m thinking “service call” “hourly rate”, etc, etc.
“Hey Ron that job will cost you forty dollars alright?” “I’m sorry but it was a service call”
This guy must have wasted a couple of hours on my van and the total bill is FORTY dollars.
“Richie, thank you, you are a saint”
Well, when I dropped off the money over by Tire Spot, I made sure to give Richie a nice tip. Because forty bucks for all that work just seems like nothing in the year 2009.
And when I was there paying my bill I made sure to tell some customers there about how Richie did all this work for me and trusted that I was going to show up later and pay him. A job done on “trust” and nothing else.
“Hey Man, if you want a customer to return those are the things you have to do you know” is all Richie said.
And let me tell you, until the day I die I’m having Richie fix my flat tires.
Back in 1990 when I bought my house from my Aunt and Uncle, I was faced with the daunting task of cleaning out my Grandmother’s apartment. In my Aunts old bedroom where she used to stay, there were rolls of silk, lamp shade skeletons along with boxes of nick knacks from my Grandmothers old lampshade store at 90 Church Avenue. Just one of those weeks where you sat in a pile of "stuff" and slowly went through every box, always trying to find something that your family never knew existed. The “Family Jewel” or that “Lost Photograph”, that’s all.
But interesting enough I came across a bunch of postcards from Havana, Cuba. These were cards sent to my Grandmother and Grandfather at 399 East 4th before Castro took over the place and made it into a perpetual “antique car show”. I have to tell you that side of present day Cuba fascinates the Hell out of me. All those 57 Plymouths running around in 2008, Wow!
But anyway, these cards were all sent from the resorts that my cousins must have stayed at while they were visiting my Great Grandfather there. They all contained loving messages to both my Grandparents here in Kensington, and were post marked from December of 1955.
So you can see I was real excited about this find and wanted let my aunt Dolores know as soon as I could. Maybe she’d want to frame them or read them to her Mother, who knows.
Now, there was always a special spot for the mail when it was delivered to my house, and it was usually placed on the sill under the stained glass window in the hallway. The mail placed there was usually for my Grandmother Isabel, who was now living with my family in Florida, New York. My Aunt Dolores believe it or not, still worked for doctor Sheps at 310 Beverley, and must have made the longest commute anyone has ever known at the time, 85 miles each way to East 3rd street. And on Fridays she would always pick up my Grandmothers mail from the windowsill before the weekend.
So what do I do that Friday morning without thinking? I just throw all the postcards on the windowsill along with the Con Edison and Keyspan bills; no big deal is all I thought.
And remember that “Family Jewel” or that “Lost Photograph” I was talking about? Well, my poor Aunt Dolores, she was just so excited to get that “lost” mail after all those years. Thinking it must have been under some ones desk over in the Kensington Post Office since 1955, and was finally found and delivered. Which wouldn't be too much of a stretch anyway considering our local post office.
Well, I just didn’t have the heart to tell her I put them there that morning without thinking twice. I meant to tell her, but probably forgot. And it’s been almost eighteen years now so why spoil a good thing?, and besides it makes great dinner conversation.
So the next time you get that postcard form some far away place. Just throw it in a box somewhere and pack it away. Because maybe someday it may be another “Kensington Story”, that was almost too good to be true.
Hey, why the heck didn't they get Tracy Noel O'Conner to do this piece? I bet you she would have known how to spell "Caton" correctly instead on "Canton". Quick, someone call the copy edit police before they arrest someone! Or better yet just steal the street sign like we used to do and walk it over to the writer on 33rd street.